9 January, 2016
“Let’s begin 2016…with the thrilling explosion of our first hydrogen bomb, so that the whole world will look up to our socialist, nuclear-armed republic and the great Workers’ Party of Korea!”
North Koreans may be happy, but the rest of the world certainly is not. Predictably, the US, Japan, China, Australia and South Korea seethed with fury at the explosive North Koreans. China scowled and muttered.
This hypocrisy and hysteria made world equity markets, already reeling from new Chinese financial blundering, crazy as uninformed investors ran for the lifeboats. The UN shook its tiny fist at North Korea, ignoring that the US, Britain, France, Russia and China are all in violation of the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
There was not a peep about nuclear scofflaws, Israel, Pakistan and India. Nor mention that today’s outraged South Korea and Taiwan had been caught by CIA red-handed trying to make their own nuclear weapons.
Is North Korea’s claim of a hydrogen weapon true? The 6-7 kiloton underground nuclear blast – close to China’s northern border was not indicative of a true thermonuclear weapon. It may, however, have been a test of the atomic trigger used to detonate a full hydrogen weapon.
In any event, whether or not the device was an H-bomb or not, what really mattered was that Pyongyang’s crowing that the device had been “miniaturized.” North Korea’s foes have long feared that it would shrink and lighten a nuclear warhead sufficiently to be carried atop some of the North’s 1,000 medium-range missile arsenal. North Korea is believed to have about ten nuclear devices, but they are heavy and unsuited to high-stress ballistic flight.
Still, there appears little doubt that North Korea is well on its way to deploy a respectable strategic nuclear force. North Koreans have been eating grass for decades to achieve just this goal.
In Pyongyang’s view, the US, Japan and South Korea all plan to invade North Korea, oust the Kim dynasty, and turn it into yet another western satrapy. Only North Korea’s redoubtable if obsolescent million-man armed forces prevent this invasion, says Pyongyang. Annual, massive US-South Korean military exercises mimicking an invasion of North Korea do nothing to lessen Pyongyang’s paranoia.
There was also an important element of inter-Korean politics at play here. The North claims it is the only true, authentic Korea. South Korea, spits Pyongyang, is an American colony, garrisoned by US troops, and run by puppets. South Korea’s armed forces are still commanded in wartime by a US four-start general. North Korea’s nuclear progress stands in sharp contrast to the South’s, which was shut down by Washington.
In spite of its blood-curdling threats against the US, North Korea is far from producing long-ranged missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads to North America. The real target for North Korea’s missiles would be US bases in South Korea, Okinawa, Japan and Guam. But most likely only in the event of a full-scale US-led assault on the North.
The US military does not like to fight opponents who have real armies. A US invasion of the north was estimated to produce upwards of 200,000 American military casualties. The most likely cause of US and South Korean military intervention in North Korea would be the collapse or overthrow of the Kim dynasty. China might sweep into North Korea to prevent it from falling under western and Japanese control.
Japan is quietly content to see Korea remain divided. A united Korea would be a determined geopolitical and economic competitor with Japan. Koreans remains deeply hostile to Japan. South Korea sees its highest threat as “unexpected reunification:” a collapse of North Korea that sends millions of starving refugees south, forcing Seoul to feed and rebuild the north.
The biggest concern in the US is that North Korean nuclear and missile technology will be sold to Israel’s Arab and Iranian foes. Pro-Israel neocons sabotaged a nuclear reduction deal with Pyongyang in 1994. Besides, the US likes keeping powerful, nuclear-armed forces in South Korea and around its highly strategic region.
North Korea’s Kim Jong-un may be zany and provocative, but he shows no desire to court nuclear suicide by attacking the US. So happy upcoming birthday, Marshall Kim. Revealing a supposed submarine-launched missile was his last year’s birthday surprise. Please try to calm down the West.
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2016